Race to the Top
INTERIM COMMISSION TO STUDY FISCAL STABILITY
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11:12 AM -- Race to the Top
Ms. Nina Lopez, Special Assistant to the Commissioner, joined the panel to discuss ARRA funding and the Race to the Top grants. Ms. Lopez stated the goals in ARRA that have to do with education are there to save jobs and programs. The Race to the Top is a $4.3 billion competition among states. It is intended to support states that propose a plan to reform their educational systems. The intended goals are to increase student achievement and to close various educational gaps. The guidance focuses on four areas of assurance: standards and assessments, data systems to support instruction, great teachers and leaders, and turning around struggling schools. Ms. Lopez discussed the criteria required for states to apply.
The last two pages of the presentation handout (Attachment A) show Colorado's Race to the Top Process. Mr. Coors asked what happens after the first few years of funding runs out. Ms. Lopez noted that the state would receive $500 million over four years and discussed options for future expenses.
Dr. Knox asked the panel what the Department of Education would like to see in reform. Ms. Lopez stated the investments in assessments and the State Longitudinal System are good, pulling up under-performing schools, but other reforms have not yet been completely identified. Commissioner Jones noted they are looking at various reform options.
Representative Court asked about two-year and trade or technical school training opportunities if a four-year education is not part of an individual's career goals. The national goal is No Child Left Behind, the state goal is to prepare every child for success after K-12, whether that is career, technical, or college. Ms. Boigon asked about Mr. Jones' ideas on improving instruction. Mr. Jones noted that development for teachers is an important concept and is necessary for teachers. What they have learned from teachers is that some have better ways to teach students. A system such as School View allows teachers to tap into other teachers' techniques and try new ways of teaching students.
Senator Heath asked if the Teacher Identifier Act (House Bill 09-1065) was in line with the CDE's goals. Ms. Lopez noted the bill has created a situation that has met the Race to the Top criteria. Senator Heath addressed the commission members, reviewing how they discussed the transportation issues, and how the education issues would be approached. He explained it is more difficult to identify the individual parts of education than it was with transportation, but the School Finance Act can begin to describe what Colorado wants for K-12 education. In addition, the other categorical programs such as Exceptional Children's Education Act, English Language Proficiency Act, transportation, gifted and talented, extended calendars, and other programs, can be reviewed to identify other programs that the state wants for kids in Colorado.
Mr. Jones noted that the dollar amounts given by CDE to implement the ideal system per the commission's request are not considered a budget request for CDE. The page that shows components of the ideal system (Page 18 of Attachment A) were some of their bigger ideas but he noted that there are many more details, like smaller class sizes, high-quality teachers, longer days, and other ideas from across the state and nation that should be looked at. There is also a focus on early childhood education. He explained that "all kids should be ready by exit" requires a definition of "ready by exit." Mr. Jones added there is a tremendous difference in earning power with additional education. Parents need to partner with schools, not just drop kids off at the door. Also, achievement gaps need to be closed, and the dropout rate should be reduced. Simply pouring more money into these programs is not the solution, but finding the right programs that work is what Colorado and CDE should be looking for. Currently, many Colorado kids are not ready for exit. Mr. Jones suggested the kids that need CDE the most are not getting their needs met. Remaining competitive and getting kids caught up will require money.
Ms. Boigon provided commission members with a chart that compared Colorado funding for K-12 to the national average (Attachment C). Discussion ensued regarding the poor funding per pupil compared to the national average. But the state also needs historical data that show outcomes of students. When the state was spending more per student, was the outcome per student better? Mr. Jones noted that measuring outcomes is harder because there are various possible outcomes to measure. Dr. Turner suggested there is a phenomena that exists now, where kids have less access to education than their parents. Measurements that compare Colorado with other states need to be comparing the same types of measurements. Some states have additional measurement criteria.
Mr. Sean Conway asked about things we should avoid. If we are doing something wrong, how do we avoid it? Mr. Jones noted early childhood focus is important, and though we are trying to prepare kids to succeed once they enter school, he posed the question, "are schools prepared to accommodate these kids?" The dilemma for teachers is that some kids enter school with some reading ability, so taking a week to learn about the letter 'A' for a week is not going to be a good use of resources toward those kids, however, there are kids who enter school who have not had exposure to letters and reading, so they need the lesson on the individual letters.
The commission recessed.